When I got to the expo Saturday morning, I realized this marathon was going to be a LOT smaller than I had thought (I think the count was somewhere around 500 runners and another 300 for the half -- although I may have those backwards). The expo was tiny. No samples of the latest running gels, sport beans, pain blockers; no chance to buy goofy running gear. Coolest thing at the expo was a large area Kashi sponsored, with cooking tips, free yoga classes, and lots of free product/coupons. I picked up a couple canvas bags (two after the race on Sunday when they were tearing down), and a yoga mat.
Starting Block, one of Columbia's running stores, was set up with their treadmill gait analyzer -- I was really surprised to see they were the only running store represented, especially since there is one (maybe two?) in Springfield...
Race morning was great. Found Tiffany (or rather, she found me) just a few minutes after I arrived. Pre-race atmosphere is always fun. The sun wasn't quite up yet, and there was a guy imitating Barney Fife wandering around the line-up area.
Line-up was fairly chaotic. There was no method to the madness -- no one was lined up according to pace. Just a mass of people bunched close to the starting line. We were toward the mid-back, and still managed to cross the start about 30 seconds after the gun.
Since Jeff Galloway was one of the weekend's speakers, about half of the marathoner's were utilizing the Galloway run-walk-run plan. It was pretty entertaining -- and humbling to see folks run ahead of me, stop to walk while I passed them, then surge forward again. As it turns out, they passed pretty quickly (after about 6 or 7 of these cycles).
I ran the first half right on target and feeling good. Shortly thereafter, things fell apart. The sun got to me. I've never been good at running in the heat, and my energy was zapped. Mentally, I hung on and never doubted finishing. I just threw out my idea of a finishing time!
Since the race itself was small, there were very few spectators along the way. I did see two folks I knew -- Sarah Glidewell and Maggie Rogers. It was fun seeing them, and the volunteers at aid stations stepped up by creating mini cheering tunnels every two miles. The low numbers also made for a really sparse course. In fact, at one point while running on the Galloway trail, I was scared I was headed the wrong way because I hadn't seen another runner, volunteer or sign that any had been there! I slowed down and finally saw Judi, who I'd run with a little earlier (and made me feel I was running with YOU, Judi! While she was twice your age, she was a great conversationalist and told fantastic stories) -- felt a lot better after that!
There were several points where I slowed even more to try to help strugglers. There was one man experiencing severe muscle cramps, so I kept pace with him for awhile. Shortly thereafter, was a duo of girls, one who was obviously having difficulty. She had her friend go on ahead, and was obviously about to quit. I walked with her and trying to distract her from the negative thoughts by asking about her life. It worked for about 10 minutes. She started feeling sick and said she'd catch up -- I told her she better, that we needed her! She apparently threw up, felt slightly better and determined to walk the rest of the way... but later dropped out. I think hearing that was the saddest moment for me.
After walking with her, I realized I was the last person out there. While I felt rather ridiculous (especially since the old man with muscle cramps was in front of me!), I realized that I had participated in the race I wanted -- trying to encourage others and keep them from giving up on their goals was far more important than my finish time. Besides, I was enjoying myself and mentally strong, even when the physical was ready to stop.
I made it up the long, gradual incline of the last four miles, turned the corner to Bass Pro and saw Tiffany, who waited for me at the finish. Seeing her made everything real -- I became emotional, but as soon as I reached her, developed the strength run toward the finish. As the Rocky theme song played, I sped up, forgetting about the pain, and crossed the finish with a big, goofy grin on my face.
So I finished dead last -- finishing is something many who began the course weren't able to accomplish -- and something the 99% of the population who have never stood at the starting line will never understand.
Today I wear my fish medal proudly. And, as soon as the blisters on the bottoms of my feet heal, I look forward to getting out there and rocking the recovery runs!